Higher Education

New York tackles debate over rising tuition and employee salaries


Officials from the State University of New York are raising concerns that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed budget might have a dire effect on the state’s public higher education.


As the Albany Times Union reported, SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher spoke before the New York legislature calling for lawmakers to give more funding support to public universities in order to avoid continued tuition increases.


“Tuition is a balancing act with the state’s investment,” Zimpher told legislators. “Put simply, if the state invests more, then we can charge less in tuition.”


“University officials say more funding is needed in order to avoid tuition increases.”

The governor’s proposal provides higher education with $3.98 billion in direct and indirect operating support, in addition to $448 million in bonded capital investment. Combined, this represents a half-percent decrease in state funding over the previous fiscal year. But Zimpher cautioned schools are already being underfunded. SUNY is asking for an additional $72.7 million to cover expenses related to salaries and employee benefits.


Since 2001, SUNY has had a program in place that caps tuition increases at $300 per year, and the Times Union reported the program is widely expected to be renewed for another five years. However, even with the cap, student tuition and fees still account for 2/3 of New York’s higher education costs. Before the recession, state funding covered about 60 percent of SUNY’s costs.


Zimpher said the debate boiled down to who would bear the cost of New York public higher education. Addressing lawmakers, she asked, “What part will come from the state and what part will burden our students?”


The salary debate

On the other side of the debate, Cuomo has criticized both SUNY and the City University of New York for spending too much of their budgets on administrative salaries. As public media station WRVO reported, the highest paid employees at the universities hold salaries exceeding $400,000 annually.


Administrative pay has become a contentious issue for the state, and officials from both SUNY and CUNY, including Zimpher, have appeared by the New York State Legislature’s joint budget committee. University officials have also faced criticism from the United University Professions, a group of faculty and staff from public universities.


“The governor has countered that administrators must reduced their ‘exorbitant’ salaries.”

“There is this national trend where administrative salaries seem to be rising and costs seem to be rising at the same pace as tuition, while faculty and staff salaries have been stagnant,” UUP President Frederick Kowal told WRVO.


Kowal noted that of the top-50 public earners in New York state, 43 work for either SUNY or CUNY,and all hold higher salaries than President Barack Obama. He contrasted this with the fact that about 30 percent of SUNY professors are kept at adjunct status and paid $3,000 per course.


“We think that the governor was correct to raise the issue of administrative salaries and we agree that resources need to be in the classroom since, at the present, between 65 and 70 percent of the cost of a SUNY education is paid for by tuition and the remainder is made up with state dollars,” Kowal said to WRVO.


In a recent letter sent to students, staff and faculty at SUNY campuses, Zimpher argued the school’s administrative salaries account for less than 6 percent of the overall budget and are in line with salaries offered by competing institutions. However, Cuomo has countered that administrators must reduce their “exorbitant” salaries, especially at a time when tuition is going up.


How Questica can help

Budgetary debates often come down to a matter of perspective, but when it comes to balancing spending and revenue and deciding how to properly allocate funds, clear and precise insights are needed. This is one reason why comprehensive budgeting software is such a valuable tool.

With Questica’s web-based, flexible budgeting platform, higher education institutions can take advantage of unique tools that allow for granular insight and real-time reporting. Instead of relying on cumbersome spreadsheets to evaluate complex decisions, Questica allows decision-makers to combine information from multiple sources into one streamlined and accessible system.


Using Questica, institutions can take advantage of multiyear budget forecasting to see how changes to their budgets will affect the college or university over an unlimited number of future years. The effect of  salary or benefit cuts or increases can be shown while also tracking numerous other budgetary factors such as fluctuations in enrollment or funding. Colleges and universities may even use Questica’s Performance module to track how funding changes impact established goals or metrics.


Armed with more comprehensive data, higher education institutions will have more insight into how best to utilize their current funding. Through Questica, schools can also take advantage of tools including funding gap analysis, salary and position planning, and grant and endowment management to create a centralized system for budgetary tracking and decision making.


Higher education institutions should contact Questica to learn how comprehensive budgeting software can help with complex funding scenarios.